Farmers “Need to Know Ag Issues” for 2018

Jim Holte
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation

On any given day Wisconsin farmers wake up to face mother nature and jarring market prices. It’s hard to imagine that on top of those dominant issues their businesses are also impacted by state and federal laws, regulations and rules.

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Jim Holte (right) tours a Sheyboygan County dairy farm with AFBF President Zippy Duvall with the goal of sharing Wisconsin farmer's concerns.

Wisconsin Farm Bureau engages many issues that are concerns of farmers, but the issue that will have the most impact on the state’s farmers in the next year are trade and the 2018 Farm Bill. On the state level farmers should be most concerned on the topic area of nutrient management.


Farmers are watching international discussions like never before, and with good reason. In 2016, Wisconsin exported more than $3.4 billion worth of agricultural products to 150 countries, with the top exporting country being Canada.

Our markets depend on our trade negotiations. With 52% of Wisconsin’s agricultural exports destined for Canada and Mexico, farmers and business owners are just left hoping that some certainty comes soon.

A withdrawal from NAFTA would have devastating consequences for our state. A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Wisconsin second in being the state hit the hardest by a withdrawal from NAFTA. Trade is crucial. We must continue to express this to our congressional delegation.

Farm bill for rough times

Hopefully we will have a farm bill in 2018. It is imperative that we pass a robust 2018 Farm Bill in a timely manner to provide certainty to farmers, as well as consumers, to maintain our plentiful and strong food system.

We know that the farm bill needs to stay closely connected to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because that program gives us some common ground and opportunity for broad support.

Jim Holte has been reelected to a sixth one-year term as the president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and Rural Mutual Insurance Company.

The dairy margin protection program is one program that has been heavily criticized. American Farm Bureau is proposing an additional concept that would help dairy farmers manage their unique risks of dairy farming. The new program, Dairy Revenue Protection, is based on futures markets so farmers can put a floor under their milk price. The program would be run by USDA’s Risk Management Agency and rates would be actuarially sound and based on market signals. The new proposal would give farmers another tool in the risk management toolbox. Dairy farmers have long been challenged with milk price variability and fluctuating inputs such as feed costs and the programs in place right now do not manage milk price risk directly.

The crop insurance program is the largest safety net for farmers and comprises 10% of the cost of the farm bill. When mother nature is your business partner, you need to have some reassurance.

Tweaks are necessary for Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage ARC in order for both to viably function and give farmers an option for coverage based on what makes sense for their farms.

A farm bill should be written for the rough times in the agriculture community, not the good times. Now is the time to ensure a safety net for our farmers as most commodity prices are low and too many farmers are highly leveraged.

Nutrient managment

Continuous improvement is a phrase used by farmers often. Like all things we do on our farms we will continue to look for ways we can be better stewards of the land and manage nutrients.

In Wisconsin, we have developed a system where NRCS technical standards are incorporated into state regulations as a way to illustrate that we are in compliance with environmental laws. For the most part this has worked well. By having the same technical standards utilized by local, state and federal programs, there has been consistency. The major change that farmers need to review is the new winter manure spreading requirements. The new national 590 standard contains a provision prohibiting the winter spreading of manure, unless an approved winter manure spreading system is approved by the state water quality agency. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau understands and supports updating NRCS Standard 590 – Nutrient Management per the directive of the national NRCS office.

As part of the effort to address groundwater issues and protect drinking water and public health across Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources is working with key agricultural and environmental organizations to update NR 151 to address groundwater contamination issues in northeast Wisconsin. Wisconsin Farm Bureau is committee to having these changes adopted by DNR in 2018.